I pressed my nose at the display window and stared at the chocolatier’s creations. From crusty gateaux to cup-sized sugar-dusted dessert to the dark chocolate truffles, I gawked. Just then I heard my guide, Guglielmo, say, “Ah, of course, Torino is the land of chocolates.”
Had I mistakenly walked into paradise?
Earlier that morning when I took the train to Turin, about 145 km west of Milan and about an hour’s train journey, I had no idea that this was the place where chocolate and hazelnut accidentally met. With history dating back to late 18th century, Turin grew to become one of the prime centres of chocolate creation. And the Swiss travelled to the city to learn the techniques and trade. However, in the coming years, as the imports plummeted, hazelnut from Piedmont was mixed, to increase the quantity of supplies. And so, the rich taste of the roasted nuts found a permanent way to chocolate.
Keeping pace with Guglielmo, we walked from one eminent sight of Turin to another. He told me about the rich history of the place and the Renaissance influence, among many other facts. My heart and mind, however, only remained with chocolate.
Caffe San Carlo, in Piazza San Carlo, dates back to 1842 and is the home to gianduia . Also called gianduja and gianduiotto , this chocolate is a combination of chocolate and hazelnut. Entering the café, I found myself staring dumbstruck at its golden Renaissance décor. Captivated by the chandelier in the centre, I almost missed the other fine details of this café. A corner door led me to the coffee parlour. Adorned with two prominent statues, paintings and quaint frescos, this room was even more exquisite.
I went back to the main counter to examine the gianduia up close. Wrapped in red, blue and golden foil-paper, the consistency in these soft triangular chocolates are the same. These were first made during Napoleon’s rule.
While walking onwards to Via Accademia delle Scienze, after a sharp right towards Palazzo Carignano, I stood facing Grom. I had tasted my first Grom gelato in Milan. I must admit, my first scoop was upon insistence. I was told, ‘It is criminal to be in Italy and not try Grom’. It was a solid dollop of frozen coffee in a cup — also called Caffe on Grom’s menu — and I have craved it ever since.
Three years later, I was standing in front of another outlet, in the city where Grom was born. As I walked in, my eyes scanned the plethora of coloured flavours. I realised that one of the best things about this parlour is that no one hurries you.
Unwilling to experiment (more like addicted to the taste), I chose Caffe again. I walked out feeling victorious, as if I had won a battle in under €3 and was rewarded in gold!
For the next five minutes, I immersed myself in the Grom experience.
My two-hour walk was drawing to an end and I grew anxious for my next sugar rush.
Perhaps the most popular way of consuming chocolate in Turin is bicerin. This is a layered drink of thick liquid chocolate at the base, coffee in the centre and fresh cream at the top. It is lighter in taste than it sounds.
I pulled out my map and asked Guglielmo to mark Caffe Al Bicerin on it. The café started in 1763 and was the first to produce bicerin in Turin (and hence, the world). In its initial forms, it was available in three different varieties: first comprising coffee and milk; second, coffee and chocolate and third was a mix of all three, as we know it now.
Halfway on Via Po, I realised that I was running out of time and energy. Caffe Al Bicerin was at least 15 minutes away on foot. Would I give up on Turin’s bicerin after all? Never.
I decided to stop at my latest infatuation, Caffe San Carlo for some gianduia and bicerin. My second visit in less than six hours, I was welcomed warmly again. I walked up confidently to the counter, where I asked for a glass of bicerin. I waited in anticipation. Would it be as delicious as expected?
It was even better.
Apprehensive of the heaviness of the drink, I found the bicerin pleasantly smooth, viscous and refreshing. With the right balance of caffeine, sugar and lactose, it was the most indulgent energy drink I’ve treated myself to. I wanted to take my time with my cup but I was pleasantly surprised at how soon I got to the end of it. At the bottom of the cup, I found a thick layer of the residual velvet chocolate. I scooped it out clean.
I packed a few gianduia for the road and home. Back in Milan, I opened the paper bag containing the triangular chocolates. In reds, blues and golden, I bit into my first gianduia . Its soft sweetness complements the delicate crunch of hazelnuts.
I sunk my face into the paper bag to breathe in the fragrance. Have you noticed how sweet love smells?
Fly to Milan via Istanbul or Abu Dhabi and then take the hour-long train from Milano Centrale to Turin’s Stazione Porta Nuova.
There are a number of boutique hotels around Stazione Porta Nuova. Else pick the NH Collection Torino Piazza Carlina, a walk away from River Po.
- Get your bearings right by starting with a free walk with Free Walking Tourin - Greeters.
- All trains run on time. Be at the station ahead of the departure time.
- Turin is a shopper’s paradise with pockets of fashion, books and quirky products.
Amrita Dasis a freelance travel writer, currently based in Kolkata